From Chicagoist (07/16/13)
In high school I worked at a movie theater and one of my many jobs was running the projector. Not that I didn’t love selling tickets, doling out popcorn, or changing the marquee on the roof (and falling off the ladder once in the process)—but the real reason I was there was to be close to the film. The movie. I loved everything about that part. In the projection room, I didn’t have to deal with complaining customers or frigid winter temperatures. In the projection room, the only sound was the clicking of the projector and—thanks to the heat from its bulb—the temperature was nice and toasty. It was just me and all that celluloid. It was the best job I ever had.
Now that’s all gone. Digital is the new standard and, aside from a few renegades here and there, film is dead. If I were to be working in a movie theater today, instead of threading film through a complicated series of spools and counter weights, I’d be popping hard drives called DCPs (Digital Cinema Packages) into the projector like it was a glorified DVD player. I’d probably remember a job like that a lot less fondly.
But screw my nostalgia. Digital is here to stay, and despite having the word “film” in its very name, The Gene Siskel Film Center is moving forward with a new upgraded digital projector and a series showcasing the cutting edge capabilities of the 4K digital format entitled “The Future Is 4K: High-Resolution Digital Movies.” No matter which side you fall on the film vs. digital issue (and honestly—how many people care or are even aware?), it’s a pretty impressive slate of classics that illustrate what movies can do on the big screen. They’ve already shown Lawrence Of Arabia, The Leopard and Edward Scissorhands (okay—near classic), with The Godfather (both 1 and 2), Taxi Driver, Gone With The Wind (now THAT’s gonna be awesome), and a relatively rare chance to see A.I.: Artificial Intelligence to come throughout the month.
I went to see Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb over the weekend (it also plays tonight), and the image was, to quote a character from another Kubrick film, “As clear as an azure sky.” Kubrick’s early black and white images have always looked as crisp as Krispies, but there was a sharpness to the picture that I’m not sure I’d encountered before. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise—the Film Center is the best. No matter the format, they always strive for the finest presentation in town, and if they’ve GOT to show digital they’ll be damned if they serve up a “glorified DVD player” image (something I’d seen the Logan do on more than one sad occasion when they projected movies from an actual DVD player).
But how sharp is too sharp? At one point, I became acutely aware of Peter Sellers’ prosthetic nose. I’d never noticed this before, but once I did, I couldn’t stop staring. My obsession with it bordered on the impolite. I wondered how Kubrick, a notorious control freak, would’ve felt about this new sharpness. Here’s a man who would’ve known exactly how to light the shot so as to hide things like prosthetics, or the strings hoisting up Slim Pickens’ miniature airplane. That artistry of light and shadow is rendered ineffectual by our near manic hunger for clarity and detail. I suspect Kubrick would be horrified.
And what of the countless mom and pop theaters throughout the U.S. that have had to close their doors due to this forced conversion that they couldn’t afford (and that includes the theater I used to work in)? Or how about the projectionists? A good projectionist was a skilled artist performing an invisible high-wire act by always hitting the focus and getting the correct framing. What good is he now? And more importantly, who does all this serve? Yeah, digital is cheaper and more efficient—but is that savings passed on to the consumer? Ticket prices haven’t gone down, they’ve gone up. Never mind that evil 3-D surcharge being used to gouge hapless parents who are required by law to take their kids to whatever the new Pixar movie may be. Is it all just a way for studios to get richer and theater chains to tighten their grip on the American movie dollar? It’s not like all that money is being used to make better movies.
But all this quibbling is, in the end, pointless. This is all “part of the new way” (I can’t stop quoting A Clockwork Orange, dammit) and, for now, it’s what we want. To argue against the obsolescence of film is to be like some vinyl enthusiast screaming about the inferior sound quality of CDs. Of course, vinyl sales were up by over 17% last year while CD sales continued to plummet—so who knows?
Besides, we all know that Netflix is the real enemy here, right? Right?!?!…..fucking Netflix………
“The Future Is 4K: High-Resolution Digital Movie” plays this month at The Gene Siskel Film Center (164 North State Street).
Dr. Strangelove plays tonight at 6 p.m.
The Godfather plays tomorrow at 6:15 p.m.
The Godfather: Part II plays Saturday, July 20 at 3pm and Wednesday, July 24 at 6:15 p.m.
Taxi Driver plays Friday, July 26 at 8 p.m and Tuesday, July 30 at 6 p.m.
Gone With The Wind plays Saturday, July 27 at 3 p.m and Wednesday, July 31 at 6:15 p.m.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence plays Saturday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m and Monday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m.